Community Service 'Like Holiday Camp'

Community service has been criticised as a "holiday camp for offenders" by the Government's victims' commissioner after an undercover investigation at three probation trusts, including two in the East Midlands, showed criminals sitting around drinking tea and smoking illegal drugs.

Louise Casey, who helped develop the community payback scheme, called for a "revolution" in the way it was implemented as policing and justice minister Nick Herbert said criminals were effectively sticking two fingers up at the system.

The remarks, which follow an undercover investigation by ITV1's Tonight programme, come as Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke considers plans for a "rehabilitation revolution" which could see more offenders given community punishments instead of short prison sentences.

The Tonight investigation, to be screened today, showed criminals on community service doing nothing for long periods, being left unsupervised, and even breaking the law by smoking cannabis while serving their sentences, a spokesman said.

Footage filmed over six weeks at projects in Manchester, Nottingham and Derbyshire, showed a series of serious problems with the schemes.

In Nottingham, offenders described so-called jewellery service, in which they sifted through old costume jewellery in a bid to salvage items for charity shops, as "easy work", "not a punishment" and "a waste of time".

Undercover filming at the site, and elsewhere in the city, showed many offenders standing around, smoking or watching television and carrying out much less work than claimed.

In Derbyshire, a repeat offender said the schemes did not deter him from reoffending and claimed he was aware of others who committed further offences while serving sentences.

Mr Herbert said the examples of lax supervision were "totally unacceptable", adding: "There can be no excuses for it. The probation trusts concerned are carrying out disciplinary procedures against a number of staff and the Government expects the necessary action to be taken."

The three probation trusts involved - Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire - said they took all the allegations seriously and were investigating, but they added that many of the examples appear to be isolated incidents.